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Dare COA bill stalls again

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State Rep. Bob Steinburg

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Sunday, July 1, 2018

College of The Albemarle and Dare County officials hoping to get started on a new campus in Dare will have to wait until next year to move the project forward.

A bill allowing state bond proceeds to be spent on the new COA campus in Dare was still languishing in the Senate Rules Committee when the General Assembly ended its short session on Friday.

It was the second year in a row legislation allowing COA to use NC Connect bond funds in Dare has stalled in the Senate.

State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, who supported the bill in the House, called its failure to reach the Senate floor for a vote “very disappointing.” He insisted that state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, whose 1st District includes Dare, could have dislodged the bill from the Senate Rules Committee had he wanted to.

“Rules aren’t that rigid,” Steinburg said.

Steinburg was responding to an explanation offered last week by Jordan Hennessy, Cook’s legislative assistant, who claimed the senator supported the COA Dare bill but, because of Senate rules, faced difficulties getting the measure heard on the Senate floor.

“It’s presently drafted as a public bill, and the deadline for public bills was (June 15),” Hennessy said in an email, referring to the already-passed deadline for getting that kind of legislation approved. Hennessey said Cook was “working on the possibility to have it drafted as a local bill,” suggesting that if he was successful, the legislation could get a hearing and a vote before the Senate adjourned.  

On Friday, however, Hennessy said Cook’s effort to get the bill drafted as a local bill and passed this session had not been successful.

“Sen. Cook tried to have the COA legislation for Dare County drafted as a local bill, but our legislative analysis division said that wouldn’t be possible,” Hennessy said.

Hennessy provided The Daily Advance with a copy of an email sent to him by Erika Churchill, a staff attorney in the General Assembly’s Legislative Analysis Division. In it, Churchill states: “The General Assembly cannot authorize a community college board of trustees to expend State funds in a local bill. That will need to be a public bill.”

For COA and Dare officials, the outcome mirrors what happened with similar legislation last year.

In April 2017, Steinburg introduced a similar bill authorizing use of NC Connect funds for construction of both the new Dare campus and a new public safety facility in Currituck County. The legislation was necessary because state law bars COA from using community college funds for county-owned facilities. The Currituck and Dare campuses are owned by those counties.

Steinburg’s bill last year was approved in the House by a 114-2 margin. One of only two House members to vote against it was state Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare, who claimed she wasn’t made aware of the bill until much later after it had been introduced.

Cook said at the time he would not vote for the bill in the Senate because of Boswell’s opposition. He signed on, however, after Dare’s participation was removed. The bill, which only included allowing COA to spend bond money in Currituck, was the last bill passed in the 2017 session, barely making it in a 2 a.m. vote.

Boswell introduced the bill this year that would have allowed COA to spend bond monies in Dare. The bill, with Steinburg as a co-sponsor, was unanimously approved in the House on June 13. When it went to the Senate, however, it was referred to the Senate Rules Committee where it remained when the session ended Friday.

Steinburg, who is running for the Senate seat that Cook currently holds, pledged to get the Dare bill approved if he’s elected this November.

“If I am elected to the Senate the first bill that I am going to introduce in the Senate is going to be that bill and we’re gong to get it through,” he said.

Steinburg will face Washington County Democrat Cole Phelps in the general election.

Steinburg said Dare County residents need the job training opportunities that COA offers.

“Community colleges are the most versatile form of education that we have available,” he said.

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